Prof. Cyrille Cohen
Prof. Cyrille CohenBar Ilan University

When Professor Cyrille Cohen, the head of the Laboratory of Immunotherapy and the Vice Dean of Bar Ilan University's Life Sciences Faculty, came on French daytime television to discuss medicine, he certainly didn't expect the discussion to turn to religion, but that's exactly what happened.

Cohen, an observant Jew, did not think twice about wearing his kippa on air, but that apparently did not resonate with some of the program's viewers and fellow panel members, given the strong feelings surrounding any display of religious symbols in the country and ongoing legal battles to forbid outward displays of any religion whatsoever.

In the middle of the discussion on Covid-19, the show's host turned to Cohen and said: "I will ask a question because a lot of people are asking and it has nothing to do with medicine. A lot of people are asking why the professor is wearing a religious symbol in the studio?"

The professor, taken aback at the question replied, "Why? Because I wear it every day. I didn't wear it specifically for your program."

One of the panelists then decided to explain the issue to Cohen. "You do understand, right? For us, secularism is discretion. We have nothing against religion, it's just something that you keep to yourself."

The professor interjected: "My name is Cohen -- why would you want me to keep my religion to myself? I'm from Israel!"

The panelist then replied by pointing out that, "There are plenty of people named Cohen who don't wear a kippa, so that's not the issue."

At that point, Cohen felt the need to point out what he believed was a double standard: "And if a priest came on, or the Pope, would you ask him to remove his cross or his head covering?" He ended the discussion by assuring the panelists that his head covering was "not meant in any way to offend the viewers."